> Following the success of the 15th annual Bristol Poetry Festival Sean Guest caught up with the man responsible for organising the event, Poetry Can director Colin Brown.
In the beginning there was more of a local emphasis, but if you’re too insular the audience eventually shrinks and the artistic and professional development of people interested in writing poetry will be severely reduced. You can’t write good poetry if you don’t read good poetry, hear good poetry and interact with the world of poetry. So the emphasis became one of bringing together the most entertaining and inspirational award winning poets from Bristol, the South West, the UK and abroad. There have been poets and performers from the USA, Africa, Australia and Europe. We even had a Poetry Slam a couple of years ago where a team of slam poets from Bristol competed against a team from Paris, with the Paris team speaking in French. We wanted a lively mixture of page poetry and performance poetry, and also to reflect and showcase the work that was taking place locally on a daily basis. This would include educational project work the Poetry Can undertakes with people and groups in the community.
This year’s event featured performances by nationally acclaimed poets such as Kit Wright and Ruth Fainlight, as well as local writers like David Briggs and Patrick Brandon. Is there a dramatic difference between the crowds drawn by local poets when compared to those drawn by poets with a reputation nationally?
Not necessarily, of course well known poets such as Carol Ann Duffy and Benjamin Zephaniah will sell every seat in the theatre but some local poets and locally based events, such as the Poetry Slam, will also attract big audiences.
How popular is poetry in Bristol?
Well, Bristol has been referred to as ‘the city of the spoken word’ by Jeremy Paxman, which reflects its big reputation for performance poetry. Festival audiences have increased over the last ten years and poets really enjoy reading and performing here because the audiences are very well informed and extremely appreciative. Due also to its various long running groups and poetry nights, Bristol is a good place to be if you’re interested in poetry.
The event is organised by Poetry Can, a registered charity formed in 1995. Just how much of the organisation’s time is dedicated to arranging this event each year and what else does the charity do?
Timewise, from start to finish, a poetry festival takes about six months to organise. The Poetry Can is a poetry development agency funded by Arts Council England and by Bristol City Council to organise and promote poetry in Bristol and the South West, as well as nationally and internationally. Essentially we do this by organising, promoting and supporting poetry events, including Bristol Poetry Festival, by organising poetry educational activities through the year and by providing information, advice and support to anyone interested in anything at all to do with poetry. We achieve this last part by answering general enquiries through the Poetry Can website, sending out a monthly email bulletin and providing one-to-one poetry development surgeries for poets of all abilities.
What was your personal highlight from this year’s festival?
That’s a really difficult question as the quality of poetry and performance was so high and there were so many different kinds of events that I’ll just have to cop out and say everything was my highlight.
How can people find out more about Poetry Can?
If you’re interested in writing poetry and would like to talk to someone about getting started, or you want some advice on how to develop both artistically and professionally as a poet then please get in touch with Poetry Can. Our telephone number is 0117 933 0900 and our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to find out what’s going on with poetry in Bristol and beyond, please visit our website www.poetrycan.co.uk